The settlementcame in response to a case filed after Hovnanian failed to live up to the an agreementwhich settled a previous accessibility claim. In January 1995, Hovnanian negotiated apre-litigation settlement with HIP, a New Jersey center for independent living. HIP hadbeen represented by the Law Project.
In the 1995 settlement agreement, the developer agreed to build 140 accessible unitsand accessible "routes of travel" to a number of units as determined by the FairHousing Act's Accessibility Guidelines. The agreement called for Hovnanian to buildaccessible routes to at least 35 of the units. According to the Accessibility Guidelines,routes to at least 73 of the units were needed.
Hovnanian hedged on its agreement with HIP, saying that it was only going to construct35 accessible routes, as that was the number in the agreement. After some negotiationsbetween Hovnanian and the Law Project, the developer agreed to up the number to 54accessible routes. HIP and the Law Project were not satisfied and sued HovnanianEnterprises. Motions for summary judgment were denied in the case and it was set to moveforward. To prevent a lengthy trial, Hovnanian agreed to build all 73 accessible routesand pay the Law Project's legal fees.
David Popiel, the Community Health Law Project's Senior Managing Attorney,said that this case was "indicative of how little accessible housing is being builtin spite of the law." Popiel said that HIP's original complaint involved aninaccessible complex next to another inaccessible complex built by Hovnanian. Popiel alsosaid that the Law Project surveyed 3,500 newly-constructed complexes in New Jersey andfound that only 146 were truly accessible under state and federal laws.
Judge finds zoning law violates Fair Housing Act
The Community Health Law Project also recently obtained a favorable judgment against thestate of New Jersey in a case concerning a discriminatory state zoning law. US DistrictJudge Stanley Brotman ruled that a portion of New Jersey's Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL)that dealt with group homes for persons with disabilities violated the Fair HousingAmendments Act.
The MLUL allowed officials in New Jersey's cities and towns to enactzoning ordinances that regulated construction and placed strict occupancy limits on grouphomes for disabled persons. The case against the state arose in a case against VoorheesTownship, New Jersey. Officials from Voorhees had enacted a zoning ordinance to preventthe construction of group homes for disabled persons after some residents of the townvoiced their opposition to a previous group home.
Judge won't allow state to dismiss case
Several disability rights groups in New Jersey, represented by Susan DiMaria of the LawProject, sued Voorhees and its Township Committee, asserting that the ordinance violatedthe Fair Housing Amendments Act. In 1993, the plaintiffs amended their complaint toinclude the State of New Jersey and to challenge the discriminatory portions of the MLUL.In February 1995, Voorhees repealed its zoning ordinance in its entirety. The town and itsTownship Committee were later dismissed from the complaint. The attorney general for thestate of New Jersey also filed a motion to be dismissed from the complaint. Judge Brotmandenied the states motion for dismissal.
The State argued that the portions of the MLUL that dealt with group homes for thedisabled were written to ensure the safety of their residents. The State maintained thatby keeping group homes more than 1,000 feet apart from each other, neighbors would be morelikely to report neglect and maltreatment of disabled residents by the group home's staff.Judge Brotman rejected this argument and ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. In hisdecision, Judge Brotman wrote that good neighbors would report abuses against disabledpersons whether or not there were two group homes within 1,000 feet of each other. Hedeclared the portions of the MLUL invalid and ordered New Jersey's attorney general toinform the New Jersey legislature and each of New Jersey's 568 municipalities of thechange in the law.